History of Doolough in Co. Mayo

Doolough is a townland in the Barony of Erris, in the north-west of Mayo. The village acquired its name from the local sand dunes (dumhaigh), and the nearby Loch Padraig, or Patrick’s Lake. According to local legend, a stone bearing the imprints of the saint’s knees is still to be found in the lake.

After the influx of Anglo Norman families into the area in the 14th century, the names Barrett, Burke, and Lynott became synonymous with the Doolough area. The Barretts held several castles in Erris during the following centuries, and in 1585, it is recorded that Edmond Barrett, the ‘Baron of Irrus’, was head of ‘The Erris Family’, and resided in the Castle of Doolough.

In 1605, there is a reference to Edmond being granted a licence to hold a weekly Saturday market at Doolough, at a rent of five shillings sterling. This suggests a certain level of trade and affluence in the area, as well as a substantial population. The castle referred to in these records was most likely to have been located in Baile Úr, at the area known as Caislean, or Caiseal. Part of the castle was still in use until 1937.

During the early 17th century, a Munster lawyer, Darby Cormick purchased a large part of the territory, and a substantial parcel of land was given to a loyal royalist, Sir James Shaen. Two daughters succeeded Shaen’s son, Arthur. They married Henry Boyle Carter, and John Bingham. These were the two names to be associated with landlordism in Erris, even up to the present day. A descendent, William, became the first Bingham landlord in Doolough.

Erris was not well connected to the rest of Mayo until 1824, when the first road from Ballina was completed. In Doolough, the first substantial road, Bothar na Sop, was constructed in 1847 as a famine relief road. This made access to the newly burgeoning Belmullet, situated approximately seven miles away, far easier for trade, commerce, and social activities.

Griffith’s Valuation of 1855 showed that the most common household names included Carey, O’Reilly, Gaughan, Connell, Donahue, Munnelly and O’Malley. Many of these are still common in the area today, while names such as Lanin, Dent, Tigue, Coughtry, and Crean have virtually disappeared.

The 1901 Census shows a more detailed picture of the population, and includes the occupants of each house, type of house, number of rooms etc. Such names as McAndrew, Coyle, Cosgrove, McGinty, and Gallagher are found in this census, and would be familiar to anyone acquainted with the area today.

The Bingham’s continued to rule in Doolough throughout the 19th century, when each tenant was required to give twelve days labour to the landlord.

Like in so many other villages on the west coast, Doolough had a Coastguard Station, visible on the 1838 O.S. map, which was operational until the late 1880’s.

Another consequence of events in the 19th century was to be discovered in the 20th, when a number of skeletons were exposed by the prevailing winds on the extensive sand banks in Doolough. This was a children’s burial ground dating from the time of the Famine and the following years. In the early 1950’s, the remains were collected in large boxes, and subsequently buried in Glencastle Cemetery.

Emigration has been an inevitable part of life in Doolough since the Famine, though the patterns and destinations have changed through the years. In the years between the 1840’s and the turn of the 20th century, many of the destinations were in the United States of America. Many of these workers would have to endure a 40-mile walk to Westport, along the Bangor-Newport route, still visible, and in occasional use today. In the years up to the end of the Second World War, much of the traffic was to Scotland, by gangs of ‘tattie hokers’(potato pickers).

By the late 1950’s, mass emigration from rural Ireland was the norm, and Doolough was no different, suffering a large fall in population at this time. Most of the Doolough people went to England - to Coventry, Leeds, Nottingham, London, and some to the farms of Yorkshire. The exodus continued apace through the sixties, with marriages rare and the birth rate low, and school leavers often emigrating immediately. Soon the school numbers dropped to a level that necessitated the closure of the local school, and amalgamation with Geesala.

In the mid-1950’s, electricity finally came to the Doolough area, with a switching-on ceremony in Geesala in 1956. This assisted in the provision of running water, and the introduction of the household labour saving devices that were so prevalent elsewhere. Although emigration continued into the 70’s and 80’s, the 1990’s brought a limited amount of re-population, even including some returned emigrants, due to the improving economy.

Doolough plays a prominent part in the annual Geesala Festival, which is held in August. Horse racing, dog racing and traditional sports are held on the Doolough Strand. The Strand’s other main claim to fame is its distinction as the setting of the sports in J.M. Synge’s well known play ‘The Playboy of the Western World’.

Article by Tony Conway


  • Dulhloch, The Doolough Committee, Western People Printers, 1991

  • Where the Sun Sets, Fr. Sean Noone, Erris Publications, 1988

  • Numerous Papers & Documents - Belmullet Public Library